Gregorio de la Rosa Jr., was on his way to “pill call” to get his medicine at the Willacy County State Jail in Willacy County, Texas. Suddenly, two prisoners launched a brutal attack. They repeatedly hit the 33 year old man in the head with a lock tied to a sock for an agonizing 20 minutes. Prison guards witnessed this violence but did nothing to stop it. And as Gregorio lay unconscious on the ground, the assistant warden laughed.
Gregorio died at the hospital a few hours later. He was only days away from being released back to his family.
Horrifyingly, Gregorio’s death is not an isolated incident. In the 136 prisons operated by the GEO Group, the largest private prison corporation in the world, stories like Gregorio’s are shockingly common. A federal judge once described a youth prison run by the GEO Group as “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts.” GEO’s egregious track record — everything from exploiting captive labor, to failing to respond to people’s medical needs, to physically and sexually abusing people — make it a natural nominee for the Corporate Hall of Shame.
The United States locks up more people than any other country in the world — and Black folks are disproportionately represented within the incarcerated population. The private prison industry’s political muscle has shaped many layers of the racist and inhumane criminal justice system we have today. And with more than $1.3 billion in revenue coming in from U.S. federal contracts in just one year, this corporation is a lead player in driving and profiting from the mass incarceration of people of color, not to mention the increasing criminalization of undocumented immigrants and asylum-seekers.
For instance, many of the corporation’s contracts with states require the government to ensure that GEO Group’s facilities are kept at least 90 percent full. In the past two decades, the company has given millions of dollars to politicians. And in 2010, the GEO Group joined other private prison industry leaders and corporations in donating to the representatives co-sponsoring the passage of draconian immigration legislation in Arizona. More recently, the corporation donated almost half a million dollars to get Trump and his anti-immigrant, pro-prison agenda into the White House. Not to mention $125,000 to Florida Governor Rick Scott’s campaign, a staunch advocate of prison privatization.
What the GEO Group did to earn your vote
When the GEO Group was founded in 1984 as the Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, the prison population, which had been stable for decades, had begun to rise. Under discriminatory drug laws and sentencing practices, the number of incarcerated people increased from 200,000 in the 1970s to over 1.2 million by the late 1990s.
Black people and political dissidents were targeted by design through the so-called “war on drugs” and other policing policies. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 — which enforces harsher prison sentences for crack cocaine than the more expensive powder version of the drug — is a primary example of this. Meanwhile, corporate front groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council — which the GEO Group has funded — lurked behind the scenes, moving Congress to pass bills that intensified sentencing and opened the doors for prison corporations to secure state and federal contracts.
The GEO Group and the rest of the private prison industry have not only shaped and profited from the racist criminal justice system, they have also done the same for the treatment of people crossing the U.S. border. Under the Trump administration, the GEO Group has been awarded lucrative new contracts to detain thousands of immigrants, and it profits for each bed that is filled on a daily basis.
Even before Trump took office, the GEO Group was benefiting from President Obama’s policies that escalated the use of detention for immigrant families. However, before he left office, Obama announced a phasing out of federal contracts for private prisons … which Trump promptly reversed. Since Trump’s election, the corporation has benefited greatly. Its stock prices climbed at the same time that officials were ripping babies from their parent’s’ arms in the summer of 2018 under Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policies. And in the days following Trump’s announcement to reverse his policy to separate families at the U.S.-Mexico border, its stock prices increased on the expectation that the corporation’s facilities would be used to detain families together.
Across the board, the living conditions in these immigrant detention facilities — like the conditions Gregorio lived in at Wackenhut-managed prison (which is no longer owned by GEO) and the corporation’s current private prisons — are deplorable. In Colorado, immigrants detained from Iraq were abused by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at a GEO facility. They were deprived of food and water and “made so miserable so they would choose to be deported.” And at Adelanto Detention Facility in California, three prisoners died in six months. The prison has received numerous complaints regarding medical neglect, poor treatment by guards, and negligence.
The primary reason for the inhumane conditions of these prisons can be traced to the corporation’s cost-cutting practices. GEO Group has been accused of holding back on medical services and hiring the minimum required experienced staff in order to put more money in the pockets of shareholders and executives. For example, at the Willacy County State Jail after the brutal attack on Gregorio, the medical staff did not arrive for over an hour. Even though this type of attack had happened before at Willacy, the area was lacking in guards to intervene.
A vote for the GEO Group is a vote for justice
There is a powerful movement to put an end the private prison industry’s abuse. All over the country, people are demanding accountability from these corporations and the elected officials that do their bidding. New York City passed resolutions to divest its public pension funds from all private prison companies and recently called other cities to do the same. In 2016, organizers in Gary, Indiana, successfully rejected a bid from GEO Group to build an immigration detention center in their town.
Expose the abuses of the GEO Group and the private prison industry. Vote to induct the GEO Group into the Corporate Hall of Shame.
Photo credit: Ye Jinghan